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Culinaria Responds To Competition From Fields Foods, Improves Produce Department

When Fields Foods opened in January on the near south side, just south of downtown, those of us who’ve regularly shopped at Culinaria at 9th & Olive were envious of the produce selection. Culinaria also noticed, prompting changes in their produce department.

New/updated display system allows more produce to be displayed
New/updated grid display system allows more produce to be displayed
Fields foods display is significantly taller, Culinaria has windows that tall shelving would block
Fields foods display is significantly taller, Culinaria has windows that tall shelving would block
Culinaria closed a walkway to give more room for fruits & vegetables.
Culinaria closed a walkway to give more room for fruits & vegetables. The windows can be seen in the background.
The view of the side behind the bananas.
The view of the side behind the bananas.

The selection is still lacking compared to Fields Foods, but greatly improved over what it has been.  Glad to see management is willing to change when a tiny upstart opens not far away. It’ll be interesting to see how both respond when Whole Foods opens in the CWE late next year.

— Steve Patterson

 

From Food Desert to Food Oasis, The St. Louis Grocery Market Has Changed

For many years St. Louis’ near south side was a food desert:

Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. (USDA)

With the recent opening of the Save-A-Lot in Jefferson Commons and Fields Foods last week, this former food desert is now a food oasis.  St. Louis still has a number of food deserts, but this is slowly changing. Let’s take a look at the near south side.

Jefferson & Lafayette used to have a Foodland, but it closed years ago. On the SE corner an ALDI used to serve the same customer base, but it also closed years ago.  Less value conscious customers have always had to go outside the area for their groceries.  Now the grocery needs of most everyone should be met with two new grocery stores: Save-A-Lot and Fields Foods.

Save-A-Lot

The Save-A-Lot opened in the southern portion of the old Foodland space, now known as Jefferson Commons. I was at the community meeting in May 2012 when it was announced that Save-A-Lot was announced as the grocery store coming to the development, the reaction in the packed gymnasium was mostly disappointment. Save-A-Lot, based in Earth City, is a subsidiary of Minnesota-based SuperValu.

The new Save-A-Lot store on south Jefferson
The new Save-A-Lot store on south Jefferson
The fresh produce section of the new Save-A-Lot impressed me when we shopped there in mid-December
The fresh produce section of the new Save-A-Lot impressed me when we shopped there in mid-December

I’m not a huge fan of Save-A-Lot or ALDI’s, but I’m also not too snobby to shop at either, on occasion.  We stopped in to shop at the new Save-A-Lot in December and I was very impressed. Sure, cases of product with the front of the boxes cut off doesn’t make for a special shopping experience. As a label reader, I rarely found an item with a bar code that didn’t contain items I won’t consume (high fructose corn syrup, for example). That said, the fresh greens & other produce was much better than I expected, beautifully displayed at the entry too.

Nice for the immediate area, but nothing to make me hop on a bus every week to shop.

Fields Foods

This new concept is what changes the local grocery market. Years ago downtown developer Craig Heller opened City Grocers to help sell more lofts. Better than nothing, it was an upscale convenience store: limited selection with high prices. When Schnucks opened Culinaria in 2009 Heller wisely shuttered City Grocers.  Fields Foods is also an effort by a real estate developer, Chris Goodson of Gilded-Age, but the similarities end there.

Fields Foods at 1500 Lafayette Ave
Fields Foods at 1500 Lafayette Ave
Great produce selection
Great produce selection

Fields Foods is part of a bigger concept:

The St. Louis Food Hub is a unique social enterprise that distributes, processes and retails foods from local farmers and food producers. Headquartered in the midst of the city’s historic Lafayette Square district, the food hub is a collaborative effort between three businesses that share the same vision.

  • Fields Foods is a full-service grocery store specializing in bringing local foods to local shoppers.
  • Virtual Food Hub is an online platform where local farmers and those who purchase their products connect to do business.
  • Farm to Family Foods is a distributor, processor, and wholesaler of local foods.

Together, these Food Hub companies are pioneering the effort to consolidate a regional food system, setting new benchmarks for food desert remediation and breathing healthy life into urban renewal.

At the opening they talked about opening more Fields Food stores. Perhaps on the near north side?

Organic foods are an option
Organic foods from brands like Westbrae are an option
Familiar brands are also on the shelves
Familiar brands are also available, catering to different budgets

The Best Choice brand is an affordable line of products from Kansas City based Associated Wholesale Grocers, these products are also available at stores like Save-A-Lot and Straub’s. Fields Foods has a nice salad bar, hot food bar, deli, etc. We were there for the ribbon cutting on Friday and returned on Saturday to shop.

Impact

Fields Foods is larger than Culinaria, so it’s able to offer a wider selection of products. I can see myself taking the short bus ride to shop here once or twice a week.  Others may stop by when driving to/from downtown.

The other store that will be impacted is Local Harvest Grocery, on Morgan Ford at Arsenal. Local Harvest carries a decent selection of organic and local products, Fields Foods will cut into that market. How much isn’t known yet.

When Whole Foods opens at Euclid & West Pine in 2015 it’ll be equal distance to downtown as Fields Foods, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens then. I’ve been frustrated by Culinaria’s selection for years, their recent modifications improved things a bit. Hopefully Fields Foods will be a wake up call to Schnucks that they can’t continue merchandising Culinaria the way they have been.

Future

As mentioned, we still have some areas that are a food desert.  These areas could benefit by having a Fields Foods to provide a source for quality food and employment. I also wonder if the changes in the local market, especially the upcoming Whole Foods, will cause Trader Joe’s to get serious about a location in the city? I don’t like the initial site plan of Midtown Station, but the location would be excellent.

Also, Fields Foods might fail, predicting the grocery market isn’t easy. National chain Wild Oats, before being bought by Whole Foods, opened a second St. Louis area store in Chesterfield.  Despite the affluence of Chesterfield the store failed and closed.  After sitting vacant for a few years, a Trader Joe’s opened in the space.  Local Harvest Grocery opened a 2nd location in Kirkwood in late 2012, but it closed less than a year later.

The Kirkwood location of Local Harvest Grocery was open less than a year. Source: Facebook
The Kirkwood location of Local Harvest Grocery was open less than a year. Source: Facebook

I think Fields Foods is making a big enough entry into the local grocery scene that some other stores, like Culinaria, will notice. Given the population isn’t increasing, every dollar spent at a new store is a dollar not being spent at an existing store.

I hope Fields Foods propers and opens new locations, each with good pedestrian access.

— Steve Patterson

 

Fields Foods Has Blatant ADA Violation, Shouldn’t Get Occupancy Permit Until Corrected (UPDATED)

In early November I visited the site of a new grocery store opening on January 4th, Fields Foods.  I was disappointed with respect to pedestrian access:

I’m very glad to see the store nearing completion. It’ll provide needed jobs, though jobs may be lost elsewhere as people change where they buy groceries. Sadly, it doesn’t appear any consideration to the many who will arrive daily on foot, some pushing strollers, and even the occasional wheelchair user. <snip>

Hopefully, somehow, I’ll be proven wrong when the grocery store opens January 4th.

I visited again last Thursday, and with the site work done I can say it isn’t what I expected: it’s both better and worse!

A new sidewalk connects to the public sidewalk along Lafayete, something I didn't see on my prior site visit.
A new walkway connects to the public sidewalk along Lafayete, something I didn’t see on my prior site visit. Could I have been wrong, is this a proper ADA-compliant access route?
Unfortunately this walkway is only for the able-bodied because at the end there isn't a curb ramp, nor one across the driveway
Unfortunately this walkway is only for the able-bodied because at the end there isn’t a curb ramp, nor one across the driveway
The non-ADA walkway seen from the driveway looking back toward 14th & Lafayette
The non-ADA walkway seen from the driveway looking back toward 14th & Lafayette
The green line represents what would be a logical point for a crosswalk, the red line is the route wheelchair users, like myself, will be forced to use after entering via the main automobile drive, formerly 14th Street. This is a major conflict with cars.
The green line represents what would be a logical point for a crosswalk, the red line is the route wheelchair users, like myself, will be forced to use after entering via the main automobile drive, formerly 14th Street. This is a major conflict with cars.
The sidewalk remains from when 14th was a public street. Pedestrians entering via 14th will have to walk in the grass since the sidewalk wasn't continued.
The sidewalk remains from when 14th was a public street. Pedestrians entering via 14th will have to walk in the grass since the sidewalk wasn’t continued. A BSI employee confirmed the concrete work was complete, the rest of this area will be grass or plantings.
Anyone thinking about pedestrian access would've connected to the 14th & Lafayette intersection.
Anyone thinking about pedestrian access would’ve connected to the 14th & Lafayette intersection.
The able-bodied not pushing a stroller or walking  with a small child and approaching from the west will likely but through the parking lot (right) rather than use the walkway where the red sign is located.
The able-bodied not pushing a stroller or walking with a small child, and approaching from the west, will likely cut through the parking lot (right) rather than use the walkway where the red sign is located.
As I previously noted, no provisions are provided for pedestrians to the east.
As I previously noted, no provisions are provided for pedestrians to the east. St. Louis has or will be vacating Soulard St between 13th and the former 14th
The ADA also requires a pedestrian route between buildings within the same development, which wasn't considered here at all.
The ADA also requires a pedestrian route between buildings within the same development, which wasn’t considered here at all. Another building(s) is planned for the land bounded by Lafayete, 13th, Soulard (former), and 14th (former).
Not sure who's a fault for the failure to comply with the spirit and letter of the ADA: owner, designer, contractor?
Not sure who’s a fault for the failure to comply with the spirit and letter of the ADA: owner, architect, contractor?
Or perhaps the developer is to blame?  My guess is a combination of all of these as well as the City of St. Louis.
Or perhaps the master developer is to blame? My guess is a combination of all of these as well as the City of St. Louis. Pace is the developer behind the proposed Midtown Station and served as IKEA’s commercial broker

Last Thursday I contacted several St. Louis officials to alert them to the issues I discovered. I suggested they withhold the occupancy permit until the walkway is retrofitted to be ADA-compliant with a curb ramp, crosswalk, and curb ramp on the building side. Providing pedestrian access not accessible to all is a very clear ADA violation.  I gave my card to the BSI employee I talked to last week, he said he’d give it to the owner. I’ve not heard back from anyone.

It would’ve been fairly easy to design & build this to be highly accessible/walkable from all directions, new construction shouldn’t need to be retrofitted. When the city is vacating public streets pedestrian access from that direction should be provided.

The parties involved in the project are collectively incompetent with respect to pedestrian access. The ADA is more than grab bars in the bathroom. I’ll be there on January 4th to see if the situation is improved.

— Steve Patterson

UPDATE 12/23/2013 @ 9:45am — I just talked with Fields Foods owner Chris Goodson, he said workers are correcting the situation. The sidewalk shown wasn’t part of the original design, it was added after the fact after my November post.

 

Rare Original Compton Heights Mansion

The last occupant of the large home at 3262 Hawthorne was born on August 5, 1908. No, the home hasn’t been vacant for years, he died in January at the age of 104. The home was built in 1893. Here’s his obituary:

Bokern Sr., Eugene A. 104, Fortified with the Sacraments of Holy Mother Church on Thursday, January 17, 2013. Beloved husband of the late Lucille (nee Lynch); loving father of Robert F. (Joyce), Gene Jr, John F. (Shirley), Edward C. (Nina), and the late Karen Sue Watkins; 19 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren, brother of the late Robert and Francis Bokern; dear cousin, uncle, and friend to many. Services: Visitation Monday, Jan. 21, 4-8pm. Funeral at HOFFMEISTER COLONIAL MORTUARY 6464 Chippewa at Watson, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 10am. Interment Calvary Cemetery. Friends may express condolences at: www.hoffmeistercolonial.com – (Source

Stone facade of 3262 Hawthorne
Stone facade of 3262 Hawthorne

Last Sunday the house was open to lookers even though an offer had just been accepted, see listing & many photos here. A friend I ran into at the open house said he saw the place shortly after the owner had died. It was “stacked high with papers”, he said. On Sunday all the stuff, including old carpets, had been removed. Ideally the original windows will be retained, appropriate reproductions would be very expensive and cheaper windows wouldn’t alter the look significantly.

Beautiful fall colors on Hawthorne Blvd just before the house
Beautiful fall colors on Hawthorne Blvd just before the house

Apparently the owner had lived there since the 1940s, with few updates. Old boiler with radiators for heat, no central air conditioning. The kitchen and bathrooms were antiques. Fairly original houses like this are very rare, the buyers will have many decisions to make. Do they clean the stone exterior to look like it did in 1893? Or perhaps just a light cleaning so some of the old patina remains?

— Steve Patterson

 

New Grocery Store Located Among Walkable Neighborhoods Not Designed For Pedestrian Customers/Employees

A new grocery store will open soon on the near south side, between Soulard to the east, Lafayette Square to the west, and The Georgian/King Louis Square to the north, Lasalle Park. The I-55/I-44 highway interchange is to the south. Technically this is located in the Peabody Darst Webbe neighborhood, partly named after the  former public housing project that were located where King Louis Square was built years ago.

Fields Foods is our vision come to life. A full-service grocery store rooted in the heart of historic Lafayette Square near downtown St. Louis. The Lafayette Square area is one of St. Louis’ oldest neighborhoods with historical stores, parks and homes. It’s truly one-of-a-kind, and that’s why it’s the perfect fit for our store.

Our team of friendly, dedicated, knowledgeable foodies guides our customers through a vast arrangement of local, healthy, delicious foods that will inspire your inner gourmet. You will walk through lush fields sampling vine-ripened fruits and vegetables. Stroll down urban streetscapes and visit the local butcher and baker. Head down to the docks to our seafood shack and enjoy what truly fresh from the sea means. And if you’re not in the mood to cook tonight, that’s okay. Stop by our prepared food section and pick up a slice of brick oven pizza, a toasty panini, salads and so much more. Need a bit more than a slice of pizza? We have a chef on staff creating restaurant quality dinners for carry out. A Sushi bar and a Wine and Beer cellar stocked with vintages from across the globe and local craft beers completes your experience.

Many area residents, tired of having to drive to the grocery store, welcome a neighborhood store they can walk to.

“Can’t wait to have a grocery store within walking distance. Actually I can see the store from my 3rd floor window.”— Jean C.  commented on a Facebook picture.

A market here was proposed in early 2007:

Koman recently partnered with Chris Goodson of Gilded Age on plans for an $80 million mixed-use development just east of the Lafayette Square neighborhood and just south of downtown. Goodson’s Georgian Square development includes plans for a Walgreens, grocery store and coffee shop. Goodson has helped transform Lafayette Square in recent years. In 1999 he helped spearhead the creation of an $8.5 million tax increment financing district in Lafayette Square. Through Gilded Age, a development company Goodson founded with partner Trace Shaughnessy, he has developed more than $125 million in real estate projects since 1996. He also is president of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners. (St. Louis Business Journal

Immediately south of downtown, another grocery store is under development. St. Louis-based Gilded Age plans to break ground on a Walgreens across the street from its Georgian Condominiums this August. Next to the Walgreens, a City Market grocery store, a unit of SuperValu, will open in the summer or fall of 2008, said Gilded Age principal Chris Goodson. (St. Louis Business Journal

In March 2008 things were still moving forward:

The SLDC already has approved forgivable loans for two other projects to receive funding from the pool of excess revenue: Gilded Age and Koman Properties’ planned $30 million first phase of its Georgian Square retail development, across from Gilded Age’s Georgian condominium project, will receive $300,000. The developers have signed an agreement with Walgreens to locate on the site, said Gilded Age principal Chris Goodson. A City Market grocery store, a division of Supervalu, and a Starbucks are also planned for the development. “We’re moving forward with the Walgreens, that will be built first,” Goodson said.  (St. Louis Business Journal

The Walgreens opened in 2009. Several other attempts were made to get a grocery store here, but each fell through:

When Gilded Age announced plans for a grocery in 2007, it was with Minneapolis-based Supervalu, a project that never materialized. Other pending deals with Phoenix-based grocery chain Sunflower Farmers Market and local operator Sappington Farmers’ Market also failed to move forward. (stltoday.com)

I’m very glad to see the store nearing completion. It’ll provide needed jobs, though jobs may be lost elsewhere as people change where they buy groceries. Sadly, it doesn’t appear any consideration to the many who will arrive daily on foot, some pushing strollers, and even the occasional wheelchair user.  Let’s start in the adjacent Bohemian Hill to the east.

Looking west on Soulard St, the new Fresh Fields is on the left, Walgreens center.
Looking west on Soulard St, the new Fresh Fields is visible on the left, Walgreens center.
The concrete curbs between the parking lot and Soulard St are already poured, no provisions for ramps, sidewalk
The concrete curbs between the parking lot and Soulard St are already poured, no provisions for ramps or a sidewalk
Looking south across Lafayette Ave on 14th the new grocery store is straight ahead
Looking south across Lafayette Ave on 14th the new grocery store is straight ahead
The circle indicates the location where the new store is being built
The circle indicates the location where the new store is being built next to the Walgreens
The area has good sidewalks but it takes careful planning to design new developments to encourage walking.
The area has good sidewalks but it takes careful planning to design new developments to encourage walking.
The parking lot will blend into the Walgreens lot
The parking lot will blend into the Walgreens lot

I understand most customers and many employees will drive to this new store. I also know many will opt to walk here from home, Walgreens, nearby bus stop, etc. How many isn’t know, but if we do a pedestrian count later it’ll surprise you just how many do walk, or bike.  Had the civil engineers, architects, & developers actually planned a welcoming sidewalk approach the numbers would be higher. From press releases and articles it’s clear they’re  not targeting local residents, “Goodson and Randol also hope the store’s proximity to major highways will attract customers entering or leaving downtown St. Louis.” (Sauce)

Clearly the city has been working with the developers for six years on this project, there was time to figure out how residents of his own project across the street can walk to his new grocery store.  The city failed big time by not requiring good pedestrian access.

Hopefully, somehow, I’ll be proven wrong when the grocery store opens January 4th.

— Steve Patterson

 

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